Editor’s note: This article was published before the coronavirus pandemic, and may not reflect the current situation on the ground.

Many of us travel to escape the routine of everyday life. But, for better or worse, routine can have a habit of following you around the world. Just ask Leon McCarron.

I remember thinking it seemed stupid to be using an alarm clock in a desert. We forced ourselves to wake an hour before the sun rose, because it was winter and the days were short and we had a long way to go.

But it was also early, and dark, and we were tired. The Gobi is the largest cold desert in the world outside of Antarctica and, in November—when we’d decided to try and walk across it—the temperature dropped to as low as -20C overnight.

I’d force open my eyes and feel the sting of the air. The inside of a cold tent in darkness is rarely inspiring. My companion Rob was doing the same thing in his tent beside me—we’d grunt a greeting to make sure the other wasn’t sneaking a few moments of extra sleep. Still cocooned inside my sleeping bag, I’d then open a bar of chocolate and devour the whole thing. That decadent sugar rush was a key buffer of pleasure, because none of the next steps were fun; getting out of the bag, changing clothes, packing away kit.